In Arielle’s debut YA novel, a New York University journalism student discovers the truth about her mysterious past while visiting Africa.
Nanyamka “Kay” Morowa is an overachieving undergraduate who spends much of her time working on hard-hitting news stories for her college paper or hanging out with her best friend, an outgoing Aussie named Beth. Kay forces herself to break off her romance with the handsome, adoring Callum when her recurring bad dreams indicate that his association with her will endanger his life. After her parents reveal that they haven’t been honest with her about her past, Kay leaves for South Africa feeling bitter and anxious. Her excitement on arrival is cut short when she becomes a victim of a human trafficking ring operated by a large-scale poaching operation. She flees the encampment with the help of a young woman named Tuki, who leads her and other victims to a refuge called Ipharadisi. There, she meets the majestic, menacing Queen Zaina and a handsome doctor named Erec. The refuge is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating victims of violence, and Kay is told that she can’t leave, as she might reveal its location. Her strained relationship with the queen comes to a head when the mystical secret of Kay’s past (and her dreams) is fully revealed. As Ipharadisi comes under increasing threat, Kay trains to take on greater responsibility. With its emphasis on South African politics and current events, Arielle’s novel is a refreshing departure from the well-trod ground of paranormal romance stories. The community of Ipharadisi is richly imagined and fleshed out in vivid detail, from its cultures and customs to its intriguing sporting pastimes. At the market, for example, Kay learns that the natives mix the fermented kola nuts with water to make their own cola drink. The constant athletic competition among donga fighters will remind readers that despite the prevailing desire for peace, this is a warrior culture that must remain battle-ready. Kay’s narrative voice, as written by Arielle, is well-suited to a promising young journalist, and she comes across as witty and observant but self-conscious and vulnerable. She also manages to be delightfully wry without slipping into cynicism, and she has just enough quirks: her guilty pleasure is wrestling on TV, and she admits to daydreaming about being at the library.
A smart, thrilling story of a dangerous and mystical adventure.